It’s easy to pack on a few extra pounds during the holidays. But by being more mindful and self-aware of those BLTs – bites, licks and tastes – you can avoid the holiday weight gain that plagues most Americans, Atrium Health experts advise.

News | 3 months ago

'BLT’s' can Lead to Unwanted LBs over the Holidays

It’s easy to pack on a few extra pounds during the holidays. But by being more mindful and self-aware of those BLTs – bites, licks and tastes – you can avoid the holiday weight gain that plagues most Americans, Atrium Health experts advise. 

We all know it is coming. Holiday drinks. Rich meals. Decadent treats. With the joy of the season comes the dreaded weight gain. Even those mindless nibbles can add up over time. 

“Avoid the BLT’s, or the bites, licks, and tastes,” says Mike Slomba, RD, a registered dietitian and health coach with Atrium Health. “All too often when we are the ones cooking or baking we will lick the spoon, or taste the dessert. But each 'BLT’ may have 50 to 100 calories depending on the food. And after a dozen or so BLT’s that can easily add up to 1,000 calories – or almost 1/3 pound of body fat.”

Research shows that over the holidays, Americans gain 1 to 2 pounds.  And for those already overweight, experts estimate the average weight increase can be as much as five times more.

“The problem is that those who gain extra pounds do not usually lose it over the next year. After 10 holiday seasons the weight gain is cumulative and that can affect your health,” Slomba says.  

I’m a (Holiday) Survivor

Two keys to surviving the holidays without any “unwanted gifts” around your waistline – portion control and physical activity.

“I don’t know many people who can eat just one holiday cookie or only drink a half cup of eggnog, so keeping an eye on portions will keep you in check,” says Slomba. “Eat larger servings of healthy foods and small servings of more indulgent treats and make time to exercise. Even in our busiest times I believe we can engage in some form of physical activity.

New federal guidelines were just released regarding how much exercise a person should get each week. For adults, the recommendations are 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. New this year: The guidelines mention “additional health benefits” for those who engage in exercise beyond the recommended amounts. And they have included suggestions for muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on at least two days a week.

Added Stress and Overeating

For many people the holidays can bring added stress which can lead to overeating or emotional eating.

“It is important to have a solid support system during this time and to be self-aware of what your triggers are,” Slomba said. “What I hear a lot from people is they are guilted into eating certain foods when they hear things like ‘Your mom slaved over this dessert, she will be so upset if you don’t eat it.’ I tell folks set some boundaries and have your support system handy.

Carmen Teague, MD, an internal medicine physician with Atrium Health’s Mecklenburg Medical Group, says that she hears patients wanting to fast or eat nothing until a big meal. “That isn’t doing you any favors,” Dr. Teague says. “Add in alcohol and it makes you hungrier. You are then more likely to overeat once you do sit down for your meal.”

Feel the Burn

If you want to indulge a little in the holidays, find some creative ways to burn off the extra calories into your regular routines. Talk a walk after dinner with the family, exercise during lunchtime at work or simply just set aside “me time” a few times a week for exercise.

A typical iced cookie has 130 calories and most people will eat two or more at a time. One cup of eggnog has around 360 calories and one cup of hot chocolate has is about 200 calories.

To expend these calories Slomba recommends seasonal activities such as raking leaves, chopping wood, or even ice skating. A 180-pound person can burn over 300 calories from skating for 30 minutes or melt close to 200 calories by raking leaves for 30 minutes. “Walking is always an easy one to fit in. You can burn 150 to 200 calories after a 30-minute walk,” says Slomba.

Dr. Teague recommends multitasking.

“We are a screen-focused society. Ride a stationary bike or use a treadmill and move while watching a 40-minute show,” she says. 

'Tis the Season for Joy

Finally, enjoy the holidays. If you’re planning on eating a high-calorie meal later in the day, eat a larger, healthy breakfast and then a nourishing snack, such as an apple or a handful of almonds before the event. “Maintaining should be your goal,” says Dr. Teague. “Enjoy the holidays. Don’t deprive yourself of the joy of the season. It’s all about balance.” 

Enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season with these additional tips:

  1. If you find yourself at a holiday party, keep a bottle of water in your dominant hand which may help keep your hand off the food trays. Also, drinking plenty of water an hour or two  before an event or big meal can ward off hunger and decrease thirst for high-calorie beverages.
  2. Limit high-calorie drinks, such as sweet tea. “An 8-ounce glass of sweet tea has more calories and sugar than a soda,” says Dr. Teague. “Think about how many times they refill your glass at a restaurant and how many extra calories that is.”
  3. Try to hold your conversations away from the food table and out of the kitchen. If you are near it, scan the table and keep an eye out for color. Green is good and try to include more vibrant colors – cranberries and yams – than white foods.
  4. Keep a balance between calories in and calories out by increasing how much you exercise. Park in spots farthest from store entrances when shopping. And set up weekday challenges, such as “Take-the-Stairs Tuesday” and “Walk-Around-the-Block Wednesday.”
  5. The best thing a person can do is to not beat themselves up about having that cookie or having that second glass of eggnog. Put it behind you and remember what your health goals are. Get back on track if you overindulge.